Monday 7 November 2011

The Finest Water in Mayfair

I think I am right in saying that pumps and wells persisted as a source of water for many Londoners, well into the Victorian period, even as tap water became increasingly commonplace. This was not only in poor areas. The aristocracy of Mayfair might prefer to rely 'spring water'; at least, until they looked into it more closely:-

Parish pump in St. Paul's Churchyard.
We lived then in London at Chesterfield House, South Audley Street, which covered three times the amount of grund it does at present, for at the back it had a very large garden, on which Chesterfield gardens are now built. In addition to this, it had two wings at right angles to it, one now occupied by Lord Leconfield's house, the other by No.s 1 and 2, South Audley Street. The left-hand wing was used as our stables and contained a well which enjoyed an immense local reputation in Mayfair.  Never was such drinking water! My father allowed any one in the neighbourhood to fetch their drinking water from our well, and one of my earliest recollections is watching the long daily procession of men-servants in the curious yellow-jean jackets of the "sixties", each with two large cans in his hands, fetching the day's supply of our matchless water. No inhabitants of Curzon Street, Great Stanhope Street or South Audley Street would dream of touching any water but from the famous Chesterfield House spring. In 1867 there was a serious outbreak of Asiatic cholera in London, and my father determined to have the water of the celebrated spring analysed. There were loud protests at this:- what, analyse the finest drinking-water in England! My father, however, persisted, and the result of the analysis was that our incomparable drinking-water was found to contain thirty per cent. of organic matter. The analyst reported that fifteen per cent. of the water must be pure sewage. My father had the spring sealed and bricked up at once, but it is marvel that we had not poisoned every single inhabitant of the Mayfair district years before.

Frederick Spencer Hamilton, The Days Before Yesterday, 1930

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